Pass the mayo: An acre of tomatoes equals 85,500 sandwiches

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 29, 2011

SALISBURY — It’s tomato time in Rowan County as many home gardeners have had an ample crop this summer despite our rollercoaster weather.
Commercial tomato producers are also experiencing a very good crop this season. Seasoned commercial tomato producers are prepared for the heat and drought that Mother Nature produces during the growing season.
In some respects, the heat and drought this summer is sort of a mixed blessing for many tomato producers. Experienced tomato producers are able to meter exact amounts of water and nutrients necessary for maximum growth and yields. Commercial growers monitor their crop constantly with tissue samples to determine nutritional needs.
Excessive downpours Rowan received a few weeks ago are actually a burden for commercial producers, causing tomato fruit to expand and crack, rendering them unsalable. Excessive rain and humidity also provides the perfect medium for foliar disease problems. Lower humidity lessens foliar disease problems, providing better yields and fruit quality.
Spider mites have become a serious problem during the heat of the summer. These minute pests literally suck the leaves dry, causing them to turn yellow, reducing yield and quality of the fruit.
Most home garden tomato varieties and some commercial varieties have poor fruit set during extremely hot weather conditions. Tomatoes grow best under moderate heat, not excessively hot weather as we are now experiencing. Tomato plants often abort blooms and fruit development is often abnormal with cracks and misshapen fruit.
Commercial tomato producers rely on tomato varieties bred to set fruit in hot, arid conditions for their late summer and fall crops. A few growers will have vine ripe tomatoes until frost; late tomatoes in the fall often bring premium prices.
Below are a few interesting tomato facts:
• In the United States, more tomatoes are consumed than any other single fruit or vegetable.
• The Supreme Court in 1893 declared the tomato a vegetable.
• Originally cultivated by the Aztecs and Incas as early as 700 A.D., the tomato is native to the Americas.
• By the middle of the 19th century, tomatoes were in use across America. By 1842, farm journals were declared the tomato as the “latest craze” in vegetables.
• The tomato is in the same family as the potato, pepper, eggplant and petunia.
• The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports there are 25,000 tomato varieties.
• The largest tomato on record is a 7-pound monster grown in Oklahoma by Gordon Graham of Edmond, Okla., in 1986. The tomato made sandwiches for 21 people.
• California is clearly number one nationally in processed tomato production, growing nine out of every 10 tomatoes processed in the U.S., with a crop value exceeding $547 million.
• Each man, woman and child in America consumes almost 80 pounds of tomatoes every year.
• A typical tomato truck holds 50,000 pounds of tomatoes, which is about 300,000 tomatoes.
• In 2010, North Carolina produced 3,200 acres of tomatoes, representing a $21 million industry.
• More than 400 acres of trellised tomatoes are produced in Rowan County.
• The average yield in Rowan County is 1,500 25-pound boxes of tomatoes per acre or about 20 tons of marketable tomatoes per acre or approximately 57,000 tomatoes per acre. That would make 85,500 tomato sandwiches using 1,336 quarts of mayonnaise and 8,550 loaves of bread from one acre of tomatoes.
Darrell Blackwelder is County Extension Director for Rowan County North Carolina Cooperative Extension. Call 704-216-8970.